The shutdown is ending. Here’s how.

October 16, 2013
They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Will the House take it to heart? (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Will the House take it to heart? (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

It ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.

The endgame for the government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff is now in sight. Late Tuesday, House Republicans were unable to congeal on an alternative to the Senate deal hammered out between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. That leaves the Senate deal as the only game in town, with the debt ceiling deadline and its attendant risk of default only a day away. The latest reporting from well-sourced Hill reporters is that the House will pass the Senate deal with significant Democratic votes. Here, for example, is Robert Costa of National Review on Wednesday morning:

The Senate deal is still taking shape, but the early reporting on it points to this: The government will be funded through Jan. 15. The debt ceiling will be raised through Feb. 7. A new budget committee will be charged with trying to negotiate a longer-term deal between now and then. There will be backpay for federal workers furloughed during the shutdown, and new provisions to strengthen income verification of workers who receive subsidies for health care under the Affordable Care Act.

In other words, nothing much changes, but there are some minor steps to make it feel like something was accomplished in this tumultuous October of debt brinksmanship.

Here is the irony. As with the August 2011 debt-ceiling standoff and December 2012 "fiscal-cliff" debate, any chance that House Republicans had for winning meaningful concessions or playing an active role in the governing process was thrown out the window by the fact that they couldn't unify behind their leadership in the final stages of the negotiation (or any stage of the negotiation, frankly).

A big remaining question is this: This winter, we will be staring at the same basic issue, of a need to pass yet another "continuing resolution" to fund the government and another increase to the debt ceiling. Will anything happen between now and then to change the contours of the negotiation?

It is hard to imagine that President Obama and the Democrats will back off their hard-line that they will not negotiate with the threat of default on the table. It is hard to imagine that House Republicans will back off their demands for major concessions in exchange for funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. So the only way winter 2014 feels different from fall 2013 is if something happens to shift that dynamic.

Maybe a time line closer to the election leads mainstream conservatives in the House to push for a more constructive form of engagement? Or the terrible damage the debt standoff has done to the Republicans' standing in the polls leads them to rethink strategy?

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It is a line that could do well to be plastered over the door to the House chamber.

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Brad Plumer · October 16, 2013